If you buy only one action game starring a Spartan warrior this year, don't make it 300: March to Glory. If you buy two, then maybe pay 300 a bit of consideration. Based on the upcoming Zack Snyder film (which is itself a retelling of Frank Miller's graphic novel), 300 is a pure hack-and-slash action game, filled with violently bloody combat, monstrous enemies, and some stylish artwork. It's also another one of those movie-licensed games that feels like it was cobbled together in a relatively short cycle and rushed onto store shelves just ahead of the film's release, as practically every aspect feels underdeveloped in one way or another. But raw as it may be, 300 still provides some memorable moments and ties itself into the film quite nicely.
You won't get Gerard Butler's distinctive battle growl in the game version of 300, but the new actors still do some good work.
300 tells the tale of the Battle of Thermopylae (or, at least, a highly stylized version of it). You're not going to get a particularly accurate history lesson here, but the gist is that a small cadre of 300 Spartan warriors (led by their king, Leonidas) stood their ground against the hundreds of thousands of invading warriors of Xerxes I's Persian army. In the game, you play as Leonidas and fight alongside some of your fellow Spartans as you take on a seemingly endless onslaught of Persians. Fortunately, the heavy stylization of the story in the comic and the movie helps to prevent 300 from being an endless beat-'em-up against generic soldiers. In this story, Xerxes employs a wide variety of horrible grotesqueries, from deformed golems to hideous executioners with blades literally replacing their arms.
Leonidas and his crew are a feisty bunch, screaming taunts at their enemies before every battle and generally going into every fight without so much as a hint of fear. The actors who portray the primary characters--not the actors from the film, save for one (David Wenham, reprising his role as Dilios)--do a fine job conveying the borderline insanity of each warrior. These guys chew the scenery like Bolivians chew coca leaves, and it's really entertaining to listen to.
Too bad it's not as entertaining to play. As fantastic as the idea of a bunch of bloodthirsty Spartans tearing up the Persian army sounds, 300 doesn't deliver on the action. Mainly, the combat is too simplistic. You're handed a shield, a sword, and a spear (and, eventually, dual swords) and can cycle through any of these weapons at the press of a button. There are two main attack buttons and a third attack button that uses your shield as a weapon. Basic attacks consist of short combo strings that are usually enough to fell any of the weaker enemies, though stronger enemies require far more attacks. The problem is that the game never finds a way to make these attacks particularly interesting, beyond the copious amounts of blood and severed limbs that come flying off a downed warrior. You'd think that'd be enough, yet somehow even the abject violence seems a bit dull. Though the game touts a number of equipment and combo upgrades you can earn by killing more and more dudes, there aren't nearly enough of these upgrades to really make a difference, and the ones that are there aren't all that spectacular. So you end up pulling off a lot of short, similar-looking combos that often have to be repeated ad nauseam to bring down some of the bigger enemies.
A few bones of variety are tossed your way with some of Leonidas' special abilities. There's a heightened attack mode called "blood drunk" that turns your whole screen red and doubles your attack damage, as well as a defensive mode that prevents you from taking any damage for a short period and a mode that slows down time, letting you go stab happy on a bunch of enemies that are moving at half your speed. All these abilities are tied into a "wrath" meter that builds up as you murder more foes.
They're cool abilities and can get you out of some tough spots, but unfortunately, the game designers decided to balance these abilities out by putting you into some tough spots. For instance, there are enemies that can only be killed while blood drunk. If you go into one of these battles with a low wrath meter, you have to hope there are some other grunt enemies floating around to kill to build that meter back up, and if there aren't, you're left to stab wildly at the main bad guy until the meter builds up far enough for you to do some damage. There are times when multiple enemies are floating around that functionally require you to be blood drunk to defeat, and having to play a slow-paced game of cat and mouse (or, in this case, block and stab) until you fill up this meter and can get your murder on is painfully frustrating. These blood-drunk-required enemies aren't the only frustrating lot either, as there are some that arbitrarily require ground attacks to kill (and to get them on the ground, you have to either use an attack that drains a bit of your wrath meter, or pull off one of a few specific unlockable combos) and some that seemingly can't be beaten unless you pummel them for long stretches of time with your shield.